Mahraganat is sweeping across the dance world very quickly! Its popularity in Egypt spread to Europe where it is heavily performed (even to the point that it is already considered a legitimate folk dance in some of the most world-renowned competitions!) and can be seen now making its appearance in South and North America. It has many names, but the most common you’ll see are mahraganat shaabi, street shaabi, shaabi masri, and electro shaabi. The music is very recognizable and is characterized by electronic or synthesized music and lyrics similar to today’s hip-hop music. The lyrics typically have hidden meanings that are political or risqué. Below are some tips and notes about technique, gestures, and costuming. Enjoy!
READ THIS FIRST! When dancing to mahraganat, please keep these tips in mind:
- Always consider your audience. Traditional shaabi is still considered a controversial topic among bellydancers and Middle Easterners. Mahraganat is ok to dance to (if the lyrics are suitable) at parties, haflas, and stage shows where the audience is educated on the subject. Never perform mahraganat at weddings, formal events, or to a conservative and mostly Arab audience. It is considered cheap or slightly trashy since this type of music is made for the poor, lower classes.
- Have someone who knows Egyptian Arabic to translate the song for you! I can’t stress this enough! No matter how great the song is, never dance to it without knowing the full meaning. With all the slang and hidden meanings, you have a strong chance of offending your audience and giving yourself a bad reputation. In my own personal experience, I did hours of research on one song only to find out that it was about Viagra! Be cautious!
Mahraganat shaabi is just like traditional shaabi in the technique aspect. It is danced like you would see in clubs and at street festivals. It is typically never choreographed and feels free-spirited and full of energy. Many times, dancers mock the lyrics with their gestures. A great shaabi dancer is one that while performing does such a good job mocking the lyrics, that anyone in the audience (regardless of language spoken) should understand the basic story in the song. Common technical aspects include very earthy and bouncy movements, juicy hipwork, arm movements similar to western hip-hop that are strong but unrefined, non-complex footwork, strongly emphasized torso movements, and a feeling of unrefined looseness.
As mentioned above, any shaabi dancer must use authentic gestures to get the point across. The most common you will see is any movement where the hand(s) are a closed fist with the thumb and pinky finger sticking out. This represents knives and fighting in the streets. It is meant to be playful and not aggressive. Dancers will even use their “knives” and hip their hips or shoulders to mimic getting stabbed. It is not uncommon to see dancers even use real daggers in their performance.
You may also see dancers grabbing or holding the area underneath the right side of their chest (in other words, the liver!). This is actually a symbol for love. I’ve heard an Arab state that “the heart is fleeting but the liver is forever.”
Another common gesture is using your fist to pretend like you are grinding flour in your open palm. This translates to something like “you’re dust.” It can be used either as a way of flirting (like they stand no chance) or to your enemy (like you’re out to get them).
Costuming for mahraganat is pretty undefined, but the general rule is that some sort of street clothing should be worn. Definitely do not perform in an oriental style costume or anything folk related. Most performers wear jeans, a cropped tshirt or jacket, and a belt (not bellydance style, just a plain old belt). Sometimes dancers will accent these pieces with rhinestones, but it is not necessary.
I hope you learned a lot from this post! If you have any questions about this style of dance, feel free to contact me any time! I love to help! 🙂 Here is a video to give you an idea of what it looks like! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsJcWaGRpFc